Jesse Pipeline Fire Tragedy: 22 Years of Silence

Pipelines convey goods from one location to another. For example, pipelines are used to convey water to households in cities and other human communities. They can be used for irrigation purposes and for a variety of purposes.

Today we remember the tragic pipeline fire that occurred at Atiegwo, near Jesse, Delta State, on the 17th day of October 1998 killing over a thousand community persons. The pipeline is a 16-inch petrol pipeline owned by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and linking the Warri refinery to Kaduna. The fire raged for about five days and was eventually put out by American fire-fighters.[i]

Blaming the Victims

Without any investigation, the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the state-owned NNPC and the Military Government alleged that the cause of the inferno was sabotage. However, this charge was not substantiated. The oil companies and then military government were quick to blame the victims. The basins that littered the death scene were interpreted to have been taken there by pipeline vandals to scoop spilled petrol. The military government of General Abdusalam Abubakar declared that no compensation would be paid, and the situation turned into one in which the surviving villagers became feared that they may be prosecuted. The fear led some families to prematurely discharge their relatives from hospitals, a situation that may have led to an increase in fatalities. We repeat, the root cause of the conflagration is yet to be established, 22 years after the tragic incident. 22 years is long enough to bring closure to this unfortunate incident.

A mother who lost her daughter, Eunice, in the inferno had this to say to environmental monitors that visited the scene:

She said she was going to the farm. She left us happy. We were expecting some red cassava for dinner. She never came back. We saw the basin of the cassava. We saw the “karta” (head pad). We recognised our basin and her cloth. Her body we did not see. Her voice we did not hear. The fire took her from us.

They say we are vandals. How? Can Eunice be a vandal? It is the oil people who have been vandalising our means of livelihood. It is the government that has stolen from us and continues to do so even to this minute.[ii]

What Caused the Fire?

Former Chief of Army Staff. Major General David Ejoor (rtd) was particularly piqued by the massacre and addressed the press in very strong terms.[iii] According to him the evidence suggested that oil companies and the government caused the fire. He said that “when the spillage became a general knowledge, the oil companies moved in to cover the cartel that was siphoning petrol from a joint valve near Idjerhe in tankers. Towards daybreak, the saboteurs failed to put the pipes back properly and hence the spillage of petrol.” According to the general, the spilled products got into farmlands as well as into the Ethiope River. This attracted the attention of the community people. “People going to their farms discovered that they were wading in petrol instead of water. There was a rush to fetch the petrol from the farm and the floating petrol in the river.”

Eyewitnesses recounted that five minutes before the fire, there was a Shell Petroleum Development Company helicopter hovering overhead and urging the people to evacuate the scene. Analysts believe that since the victims were mostly Urhobo, if the officer in the helicopter had shouted the information in their language, they would have escaped the tragedy. The interpretation of this is that the employment pattern in the companies is skewed against the oil field communities.

Moreover, General Ejoor stated that after warning the people from the helicopter, “the officials followed up their threat with firing nerve gas at the crowd, which made it impossible for them to run. Those who attempted to run could not move their limbs with agility. The horror came; the place was set on fire with the intention of killing everybody and to prevent anybody from giving evidence.”

Unending Pipeline Fires

Many pipeline fires have been recorded in the Niger Delta. Some can be traced to poor facility management —including the non-replacement of corroded pipelines or those that had reached their optimal lifespans. Most pipelines in Nigeria are designed for a limited lifespan of 20 years.[iv] Other incidents have been traced to vandalism or oil theft. 

Recently the General Manager of the NNPC stated that oil pipelines in Nigeria are all compromised.[v] That is a very troubling situation. It shows that pipelines can leak volatile petroleum products at any time. Another worrying statistic came through when the NNPC stated that there were 45,347 pipeline breakages and/or explosions in Nigeria over the past 18 years. While speaking on this, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari, fingered pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft as major challenges for the oil industry for years and attributed this to “poverty in surrounding communities, community-industry expectation mismatch, and corruption.”[vi]

The analysis by the NNPC largely misses the point and heaps the blame on the victims, on the hapless communities. Crude oil theft is big business that requires technical knowledge and equipment, layers of security and other protections within the system to thrive. The theft has been said to be at industrial scale. And, because the country does not really metre or measure the actual amount of crude oil extracted, the measure of the volume of crude being stolen on a daily basis remains in the realm of speculation. 

The Nigerian Extractive Industries Initiative (NEITI) reckoned that Nigeria lost about $42billion to crude oil theft in nine years. According to NEITI, about $38.5 billion was lost to crude theft alone, $1.6 billion on domestic crude and a further $1.8 billion was lost on refined petroleum products.[vii]

Figures that have been bandied range from 200,000 to 400,000,[viii] to 1,000,000 barrels a day. A top government figure once speculated that as much oil as is being officially exported is also being stolen. One thing is clear, the humungous amount of crude oil could not be stolen by poor villagers or even by those engaged in bush refining. Indeed it has been said that oil companies are involved in the business and that the international community is complicit.[ix]

Pipelines in Nigeria have largely been carriers of pipe dreams. Water pipelines are largely dry and those installed to convey crude oil to the refineries run largely empty as the refineries are comatose. 

Lives and the Living

The loss of lives in the inferno of 1998 was, and remains, painful. However, we must not fail to mention that one regular blind spot associated with accidents of this nature is the lack of focus on what happens to the environment as a result of the incident. The environmental assessment of Ogoni by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)[x] clearly illustrated the harms of irresponsible extractive activities in the Niger Delta. The report submitted to the government in 2011 and leading to the establishment of the Hydrocarbons Pollution Remediation project (HYPREP) showed that ground and surface waters in Ogoni were contaminated beyond acceptable levels. Ground water was found to have benzene, a known carcinogen, at 900 times above World Health Organisation standards. In some places, the hydrocarbon pollution had seeped into the ground to a depth of 5 metres. By the time remediation was carried out in 2020, the pollution had sunk down to a depth of 10 metres.

The National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) announced that Nigeria recorded 1,300 oil spills between 2018 and 2019. This amounted to an average of 5 oil spills per day.[xi] Not surprisingly, life expectancy in the Niger Delta is a paltry 41 years compared to an equally embarrassing national average of 55 years. The point we are making is that the living who survive oil fires remain in the grip of deadly pollution and their lives are thus highly discounted. For the living to have a fighting chance of living in dignity, the pollutions from the petroleum extractive activities must urgently be remediated across the Niger Delta.

Farewell to Fossil Fuel Fires 

There have been oil spill and pipeline fires across the Niger Delta over the past decades. The best way to honour the memory of our people that died in the fire of 1998 is to ensure that there is no repeat of such a horrific incident. 

  1. The steps towards achieving this include replacing all pipelines that have outlived their lifespans and are liable to corrode or leak. 
  2. Companies should conduct regular integrity tests on their pipelines.
  3. The companies and government must prioritize the safety of human lives and not be solely concerned with protecting pipelines and crude oil for the sake of petrodollars. 
  4. Free Prior Informed Consent must be obtained from communities before hazardous facilities such as oil/gas pipelines are allowed on their lands and territories.
  5. Where there are existing projects and/or proposed new ones, operating companies must post a reasonable deposit for covering costs of remediation in case of accidents or on the decommissioning of their plants at the end of their lifespans. 
  6. Environmental and social impact assessments must be carried out and fully debated by affected communities before any fossil fuel project is permitted in their communities. 
  7. It is also essential to ensure that pipelines are not laid on the surface and that associated facilities are adequately protected and secured with all. 
  8. Incident reporting and response should be immediate and transparent.
  9. Companies must adhere to the best international standards and end the reign of environmental racism in our lands.
  10. Urgent assessment or audit of the entire Niger Delta environment followed by a thorough remediation of the pollution accumulated over the 6 decades of oil exploitation in the region.

Talking points used at a Symposium hosted (18/10/2020) by Achoja Research Council on 22 Years After the Idjerhe Pipeline Fire Disaster under the theme Farewell to Fossil Fuel Fatalities in Our Lands. 

photo: At the mass grave with Prof G. G.Darah (4th from left).

Notes

[i] Segun Akande (16 February 2018). In 1998, Nigeria’s worst fire outbreak killed 1098 people in Delta State. https://www.pulse.ng/gist/jesse-pipeline-explosion-in-1998-nigerias-worst-fire-outbreak-killed-1098-people-in/cxsd6e9

[ii] ERA (2000). Petroleum pipeline explosion: an avoidable tragedy. Environmental Testimonies

[iii] Causes of the Idjerhe Fire Disaster. http://waado.org/Environment/IdjerheFire/CausesOfFireDisaster.html

[iv] Uzoma Nnadi et al. Lack of Proper Safety Management Systems in Nigeria Oil and Gas Pipelines. https://www.icheme.org/media/8910/xxiv-paper-14.pdf

[v] Nigeria’s Pipeline Networks Completely Compromised, Says Kyari https://tribuneonlineng.com/nigerias-pipeline-networks-completely-compromised-says-kyari/

[vi] Fakojeyo Olalekan (21 January 2020). Pipeline explosion: Over 45,000 incidents recorded in 18 years – NNPChttps://nairametrics.com/2020/01/21/pipeline-explosion-over-45000-incidents-recorded-in-18-years-nnpc/

[vii] Nigeria lost $42 billion to crude oil theft in nine years – NEITI. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/361353-nigeria-lost-42-billion-to-crude-oil-theft-in-nine-years-neiti.html

[viii] Ibid 

[ix] Nnimmo Bassey (2012). To Cook a Continent – Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa, Pambazuka Press, P149

[x] https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/assessment/environmental-assessment-ogoniland-site-factsheets-executive-summary-and-full?_ga=2.152372081.992977037.1602959307-1394307030.1602959307

[xi] NOSDRA: Nigeria records 1,300 oil spills in two years. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/396658-nosdra-nigeria-records-1300-oil-spills-in-two-years.html

An Infectious Bill

EXPLAINER: Why National Assembly still sits after presidential ...In these days of acute suspicion and uncertainty about who may be asymptomatic and who may just be harbouring early stages of COVID-19, sneaking in a Control of Infectious Diseases Bill and attempting to ram it through the legislative process is bound to generate controversies. In a season where  nose masks of various makes are being devised; where the protective wear is quickly becoming a fashion statement among both citizens and top politicians; where public office holders wear medical grade masks and health workers have to make do with whatever they the can find,  it is easy to see why Nigerians are edgy over this bill.

In a situation where the decayed infrastructure of our healthcare system has been exposed by the emergence of coronavirus, citizens are bound to wonder why the House of Representatives should rush a bill through first and second readings without some of the members even laying their eyes on the document. To further underscore the opacity of the process, there was an attempt to push the bill through without subjecting it to public hearing. While the leadership may be right that public hearings are not mandatory in the legislative process, it cannot be denied that it is one of the markers of inclusion, openness and transparency.

The Senate has equally brought up its own bill to tackle the infectious disease problem. The big question is:  why the sudden rush to enact laws on infectious diseases in the midst of a pandemic? Wisdom teaches that critical decisions should be made in conditions of sobriety and careful deliberation and not when law makers are in a panic mode. We can excuse the legislators if they are driven by panic and love for the health of compatriots but if the rush is induced, then the baby may well be acutely premature.

Objections to the bill have come from civil society coalitions, faith-based organisations and the general public. A coalition of civil society groups issued a statement denouncing the bill and stated among others, that the bill poses a threat to human rights and is an abuse of power.  They also asserted that the bill shields officials of the agency for which it is being proposed from being held accountable. An extract from their statement signed by 37 groups, including CISLAC and Amnesty International, is germane here:

“The Control of Infectious Diseases Bill vests overbearing discretionary powers on the Director General of the Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC), while making no provision for reviewing and controlling the exercise of such powers. The bill empowers the NCDC to restrict fundamental rights and freedoms at will, and abuse constitutionally established institutions and processes, without any form of accountability. For instance, Section 10 (3) gives the Director General express powers to use force to enter any premises without warrant; Section 19 confers the Director General with powers to prohibit or restrict meetings, gatherings and public entertainments; Section 15(3e) also gives powers to the Director to authorize the destruction and disposal of any structure, goods, water supply, drainage etc. In addition, Section 47(1) confers discretionary powers on the Director General to order any person to undergo vaccination or other prophylaxis. All these powers can be abused for political and economic reasons if not properly checked.
“Section 71 of the bill absolves the Director General, any Health Officer, any Port Health Officer, any police officer or any authorised person of any liability when ‘acting in good faith and with reasonable care.’ The use of ‘good faith and reasonable care’ is ambiguous and subject to misuse, manipulation, and misinterpretation for personal gain. While the threat of infectious diseases may be apparent, measures deployed for their prevention must be within the ambits of the law and must protect citizens from wilful abuse of rights.”

Imagine how quickly the mistrust the public has towards our legislators would be erased if they defer the bills, conduct further research, engage relevant stakeholders and draft bills that go beyond empowering the NCDC and Ministers of Health to ride roughshod over the people in the guise of fighting infectious diseases. To cap that up, they can immediately move the N37 billion budgeted for the “renovation” of the National Assembly to the NCDC for the crucial fight against the pandemic to which they are so committed. How many will say Aye to that proposal?

Responding to criticisms of the bill, the Speaker of the House of Representatives reportedly said, “Since then there has been a barrage of criticisms and accusations, including allegations that the proposed bill is a product of inducement by foreign interests. The bill, which is still a proposal subject to consideration, amendment and improvement, has been assailed as a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research while taking away their fundamental human rights.” He went on to add that “none of these allegations is true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly become mischaracterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility.”

We indeed live in a season of conspiracy theories, but not all of these theories can be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Every theory requires interrogation. The House of Representatives has been accused of being induced by a gift of $10 million from the vaccine buff and noted philanthropist, Bill Gates. While that allegation sounds outlandish, it is known that legislative processes in Nigeria and elsewhere are sometimes influenced by huge cash outlays. Such monies may be characterised as lobbying expenditure even though they exert huge inducement pressures on lawmakers. The origin of the coronavirus has become both a subject of political and scientific controversies. The rush to open up businesses is needed for political ends but fits into the impatience and unwillingness of citizens to remain in a state of lockdown. No action is neutral, it seems. Not even philanthropy, and certainly not economic or medical aid.

Mr Gates has openly stated his interest in massive vaccination of peoples across the world, including by investing in seven anti-COVID-19 vaccine producing factories with the hope that probably two may eventually be approved and would yield incredible cash for his already deep pockets. The pandemic has become a pivot for medical as well as financial speculators. International financial institutions and political blocks have seen the pandemic as a window for shuffling funds, extending their tentacles and building new spheres and modes of control and exploitation. For materials to aid further conversation on this, our report, Who Benefits from Corona – a breakfast with Mr Gates, may be useful.

The honourable members of the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives still have time to redeem themselves from the self-inflicted injury caused by the bills. Nigerians have determined that the bills are pills they will not swallow except they are  tied down hand and foot, with necks in stocks. The pandemic is a disaster because the hazards brought by the coronavirus have met vulnerable populations with no social amenities and no health safety nets. Hospitals still lack basic equipment, including face masks! Some infectious disease hospitals are so decayed you would be right to say that they have not been rehabilitated since the colonial powers set them up over 100 years ago. Some of those facilities are foreboding mud structures that patients approach with extreme trepidation.

Imagine how quickly the mistrust the public has towards our legislators would be erased if they defer the bills, conduct further research, engage relevant stakeholders and draft bills that go beyond empowering the NCDC and Ministers of Health to ride roughshod over the people in the guise of fighting infectious diseases. To cap that up, they can immediately move the N37 billion budgeted for the “renovation” of the National Assembly to the NCDC for the crucial fight against the pandemic to which they are so committed. How many will say Aye to that proposal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Debt Long Overdue

Climate Debt, an overdue debt

You want to know

If and when the Climate Debt will ever be paid

When will the debtors agree there is a bill?

Could be soon‬… ‪Could also be later‬

Don’t you see?

Can’t you yet perceive it?

‪Like the Natural Mystic 🎶

‪Probably a Climate Lockdown?‬

‪A stormy knockdown to wake us up‬?

‪Why are we so stuck up

Why do we imagine we are so strong ‬

Don’t you see?

Can’t you yet perceive it?

‪By adorning a sunny crown

A tiny virus with Martian suction landing pads

Craves unwary nostrils, mouths and eyes

Made super powers powerless 

Powerless, like in powerless

Don’t you see?

Can’t you yet perceive it?

‪Climate lockdown ‬

‪Could be sooner ‬

No, not later

‪With or without a crooner‬

Do not here mention corona

Don’ you see?

Can you yet still not perceive it?

world map shaped smoke rise form factory chimney
A smoked world

 

 

End of an Illusory Civilisation

 

The end of an Illusory Civilisation was bound to come. The illusion that the petroleum civilisation will last into the foreseeable future has always been a marker that our vision is rather limited. The civilisation has been preserved by our collective myopia. You may call it wilful denial.

It has been easy to ignore the cases of gross ecological harms imposed by petroleum extraction and exploitation on communities and territories simply because the power structures could drown out the voices of the people. Power structures hosted in shiny skyscrapers and expansive statehouses could pretend not to know the gross damage and the rage of inequalities on the streets.

When cyclones, hurricanes, droughts and other extreme weather events wreaked havoc on communities and nations, it was seen as opportunities to eliminate vulnerable communities living in locations preferred as vacation spots by the rich and the well-heeled.

Calls for economic diversification away from dependence on the fossil fuels sector are often seen as insane because the pockets were deemed to be bottomless. People even said that some economies could simply not survive a post petroleum era. They painted pictures of starving, helpless populations who could only be pulled out of misery by revenues yielded by the fossil fuel sector. They saw the sector as the major provider of jobs and the good life.

It was impossible to imagine the possibility of enjoying the good life without energy and power provided by fossil fuels. How would intercontinental travels and highspeed movement on superhighways be undertaken without fossil fuels? How could foods be harvested in one end of the world and eaten the next day at a distant spot on the planet? And how about the flowers harvested in Latin America or Africa and destined for the visual and nasal pleasures of lovers somewhere in Europe or North America? The idea that high-input industrial monoculture agriculture was destroying habitats and biodiversity, harming the planet, promoting wastes and even affecting human health were seen as unavoidable trade-offs in the pursuit of meat, uniform food products and profit.

Then came the special variant of coronavirus and the attendant COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic came with a heightened sense of panic. National borders got closed. Routine international air travels got halted.

Offices, factories and markets got closed. Humans became locked up in their homes or neighbourhoods. Gatherings of more than 20 persons became classified as large gatherings. Sports activities, including famed soccer, cricket, baseball and basketball leagues shuttered down. No big weddings or funerals. The world descended into a season of the unthinkable.

It has never been in doubt that fossil fuels are not renewable resources and that the stocks were finite. Besides the fact that they are wasting resources, it has also been known that burning them was harmful to the climate. The fossil fuel sector invested heavily in sponsoring climate denial as well as blocking real climate actions at both national and global levels. If the monies invested in image laundering and climate change denial had been channelled into clean energy development, the world would have been at a better standing than it is today.

Standing at the climate change precipice, restrained by a pandemic, humans have been literally quarantined and forced to accept the lifestyles that were hitherto unthinkable in their highly sophisticated societies. This would have been a time for neighbours to get to know one another, for communities to forge closer ties, but we have seen highly divisive tendencies. At a point we see communities refusing to allow ship berth at their port for fear of transmission of the virus. Is it not strange that people could tell their compatriots to float away and perish wherever as long as they did not bring a threat of the virus onshore?

Besides the fact that humans are caged by the pandemic, the greater challenge may be that of economic collapse. The economic turmoil, and especially the collapse of crude oil prices, poses a serious challenge to politicians and their corporate sponsors. If the collapse persists, politicians will be forced to change their perception matrix and know that they are elected by the people, not by corporations and that the well-being of the people is more important than the profit margins of corporations.

This oil price slump is a clear warning that even if the prices rebound, the days of the civilisation driven by this sector are truly numbered. It is simple wisdom that to be forewarned is to be fore armed. Moving on bullishly as if nothing is at stake is to blindly drive on to catastrophe. The pandemic has given the world a moment for reflection. Remaining stubborn and unreasonable is not an option.

Art and the Codes of Life

 

With Odia & Eve
Before the sage, Odia Ofeimun, took the stage

Art and the Codes of Life. While humans make history through acts of valiance or of villainy, much of history is preserved through the arts. Official historians may couch history to please the despotic rulers and politicians and may even decree the elimination of history from the educational curriculum, but true history remains largely beyond their reach. Our memory and imagination are the vaults where history is stored and these deserve to be continually nurtured and propagated.

The fact that we have had a checkered history in Nigeria cannot be disputed, but so is the history of every nation. However, we may hold the record of vigorously working to push our history under the carpet so as to obscure the unpalatable stories of those who must remain in the political firmament of the land. We seem to have found a way to decorate villainy, marking such as valiancy or gallantry. Unfortunately, brightly lit or coloured vileness, roguery or even rascality can dazzle and confuse the simple-minded. And, sadly, an obscured past births an obscured future.

Our stories hold the code for rebuilding hope and for rebuilding Nigeria, even the world. We have to decipher the codes of life, recognize our commonalities, know our stories and tell them, defend our memory, build our imagination and march in the direction of solidarity as we fight for socio-ecological justice.

Happily, the arts, by and large, hold the torch to light the way to our past in a way that refuses to be suppressed or obliterated. Poetry, songs, paintings, sculpture, stories, films, architecture and the like, tell our history in a living way. Novels by writers such as Chinua Achebe, Festus Iyayi, Helon Habila, Chimamanda Adichie, Okey Ndibe, Wale Okediran and many others give us clear sketches of  the rough waters of our histories. The poetry of Christopher Okigbo, Gabriel Okara, J. P. Clark-Bekederemo, Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan, Odia Ofeimun, Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Ogaga Ifowodo, Harry Garuba, Nduka Otiono and several others, brilliantly capture our histories and fearlessly lay out the paths of our times of innocence, colonialism, neocolonialism, kleptocracy, authoritarianism, socio-ecological and financial corruption. They also give us the outlines of hope, as they inevitably sketch the way forward to a preferred future.

We also call to mind, notable sculptors, painters and writers such as Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onabrokpeya, Demas Nwoko, Yusuf Grillo and Uche Okeke who were immersed in the struggle for Nigeria’s political and artistic independence. The vibrancy of their artistic production, discourse and vision, held up brilliant signposts to what could have been. Along with the architectural production of those days, we saw that our built and unbuilt spaces spoke of our hopes and enclosed the innate desires to be authentic in our march into the future.

Writing on the works of Odia Ofeimun, but also focusing on the general fighting spirit of Nigerian writers, Dan Amor captured the roles played by our writers in the historic struggles in the nation: “The traumatic effects of the social upheavals in the mid-sixties, the civil war and its attendant horrors, increased writers’ political commitment. Nigerian creative writers were caught in ambivalence after the war – torn between anguish over the predatory tendencies in human nature, as displayed or exhibited in mutual destruction of lives and property, and the need to reconstruct the society after the catastrophe. But the most significant creative development from the civil war is not merely the exposition of the horrors nor the writers’ anguish from the traumatic results of the war, but their determination to make their work an organic function of the nation’s history.”

What can we say about our music? Musicians raised the flag of highlife and equally sounded the alarm as the nation wavered between hope and despair, between light and darkness and between goodness and near absolute meanness. No matter what anyone may write as the history of Nigeria, the music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti will stand as a testimony of their truthfulness or willful perfidy. Anikulapo-Kuti’s songs, including Beasts of No Nation,  Zombie and Vagabonds in Power speak volumes of the days of infamy in Nigeria.

The long list of artistes that have captured history and placed it out of reach of official deniers or manipulators is long and cannot be covered in this piece. Why do artistes do what they do, even to their own peril?

Some art may be for art’s sake, but to some of us, art aims to achieve particular ends. Even so, we realize that no matter how targeted a work of art may be, it often throws up unexpected additional results. The complexities of the crafts and the richness of memory and imagination necessarily moderate our architecture, sculpture, paintings, poetry, fiction, music and films as they capture our histories in verse, colour, movement or in concrete.

I listened closely to Odia Ofeimun as he spoke on Art and the Environment on 11 June 2019. The key points I distilled from the broad, intricate and rich tapestry of his presentation were that our memory is fed by our senses and that our imagination is developed by what our senses pick up. Our common humanity presents us with codes that teach us how to live together with a sense of order and without hurting each other. Without a sense of order there can be no successful pursuit of social justice. If this is true, as we believe it is, it means that we have either lost the code, our sense of common humanity, imagination or memory.

Evelyn Osagie
Poetry flows from Evelyn Osagie

Stories told in verse or carved in stone hold out mirrors that help us see who we are and grasp the codes of life. They both preserve and promote our memory and our imagination. Who are we? Where have we come from from? Where are we headed? Can we continue in the trajectory of so much insecurity such that  that one cannot walk between his bedroom and kitchen without fear of being kidnapped? How far can a nation go when corruption rises, the more it is fought?

Our stories hold the code for rebuilding hope and for rebuilding Nigeria, even the world. We have to decipher the codes of life, recognize our commonalities, know our stories and tell them, defend our memory, build our imagination and march in the direction of solidarity as we fight for socio-ecological justice.

 

A Poisoned Civilization

roasting.jpgWe live in a Poisoned Civilization. The Planet is on the sick bed. With up to one million species gone extinct and many of the remaining ones under threat, it is clear that things have gone terribly wrong. While it is known that humans are largely responsible for the harms brought on the Planet, we do not seem to care about halting the predatory relationship with other beings, simply because business as usual is so profitable to the drivers of the destruction.

Civilization ought to mean progress, sophistication, advancement and refinement but is that where we are today? If advancement means oppression, militarisation, violence, destruction and a reign of intergenerational injustices, then humans are living in a state of willing delusion. You may call it a state of willing blindness. In an age of threats of the Planet being burnt up, humans stubbornly insist on continuing to burn fossil fuels for energy. In a time when it is clear that species are being wiped out in droves, humans insist that progress means entrenching agricultural modes steeped in poison.

It appears we are stuck on the fatal track because of layers of corporate blindfolds placed over the eyes of policy makers across much of the world. The interrelatedness of lives on the Planet is not a matter for debate. When a part of the web of life is interfered with by humans, other parts get affected. The war against insects gave rise to the production of chemical insecticides. The war against unwanted plants gave rise to the production of herbicides. Profit-driven industrial agriculture continues to poison the species on the Planet and yet the push is to carpet the world with more of the toxic broths.

A recent report by the Inter Governmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that “Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive global direct driver of land degradation, causing significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services – food security, water purification, the provision of energy and other contributions of nature essential to people. This has reached ‘critical’ levels in many parts of the world…” The IPBES report also warned that, “With negative impacts on the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, the degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction.”

Science decorated with corporate interests must not be allowed to trump good sense. The fear mongering by proponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that we cannot feed ourselves without their dangerous products and that those opposed to their trade are anti-development, anti-science and anti -national interests must be discountenanced as blatant nonsense.

The war on insects is a war on other species. It is known, for example, that much of our food production depends on the agency of insects who facilitate production through pollination. The effect of the use of poisons in agriculture is already known to have greatly decimated the population of bees in the world. It is so bad in some places that farmers have to rent beehives in order to enjoy the services of the creatures and ensure good harvests on their farms.

Today, humans do not only dump insecticides or poisons on croplands, crops are genetically engineered to be insecticides themselves, killing intended and unintended insects. Today, crops are genetically engineered to withstand specific poisons labelled herbicides ostensibly to eliminate the drudgery of weeding on farms, reduce competition with unwanted plants and increase the harvest for farmers and investors. Humans have advanced to the point when extinction is actually being engineered in the laboratory in a technology known as gene drives. The extinction or exterminator technology, for example, aims to deliberately drive or force a genetic trait through entire species in such a way that reproduction ends up yielding off springs of a particular sex, for example and over a period of time wipes out that species. Experiments are being cooked up against mosquitoes and will be unleashed in Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda and Cote d’Ivoire. No one loves mosquitoes, especially the malaria parasite carrying ones, but these experiments are simply a foot in the door towards teasing out the efficacy of a technology that can easily disrupt ecological balances and can rapidly be weaponized.

Let us return to the horrors of farming with deadly poisons. Landmark legal decisions are being made in the United States of America (USA) over the impact of Bayer-Monsanto’s famous herbicide, Roundup. A few days ago, a jury awarded $2 billion in damages against the company for cancer suffered by a couple who were exposed to the herbicide in that country. Court findings suggested that the presence of glyphosate, a major ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup, in food supply has a link to increased level of more severe cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in the USA. In the course of the legal tussle, lawyers showed members of the jury heaps of materials said to show how the manufacturers of the herbicide are  manipulating scientific literature, ghost-writing scientific review papers and getting them published and cited as authoritative by policy making agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of that country. In the midst of the legal fights, the EPA issued a new approval for the deadly herbicide.

Nigerians should be worried about the prevalence of the herbicide, Roundup, in our markets. We should also worry that approvals for field trails of crops genetically engineered to withstand this same herbicide are ongoing in our country. Monsanto-Bayer claims that the chemical is safe when applied as prescribed by them. The right way to apply the chemical includes being suited up as though you were headed for a space flight. With lax industrial practices, our farmers are not following those prescriptions. Even with the best adherence to the prescriptions in the USA, the results are now out that farmers and others that are exposed to the poison are not safe.

The war against weeds is a war that requires delicate consideration. What is termed a weed in one community may actually be food elsewhere. The same applies to pests. Where an insect is a threat to a plant, it may be food for humans and other predators.

Science decorated with corporate interests must not be allowed to trump good sense. The fear mongering by proponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that we cannot feed ourselves without their dangerous products and that those opposed to their trade are anti-development, anti-science and anti -national interests must be discountenanced as blatant nonsense. The unfolding guilty verdicts in the courts of the USA should be early warning signs to us all.

We have to wake up and eliminate the poisons from our markets and farms. We must wake up and demand an end to permitting crops engineered to be cultivated with these poisons. It is time to make global peace with the Earth, recognize her rights and that of all other threatened inhabitants. The way to the future must be poison and fossil fuel free and we have to pave the pathways today.

A Journey with Ken Saro-Wiwa

A888DD39-245D-45E2-A1AE-E6059F92360FConversation with Ken Saro-Wiwa took place at the offices of We The People in Port Harcourt on Thursday 25 April 2019. The room was packed out and yet more seats had to be brought in. One seat only had a book on it. That book was Silence Would by Treason – the last writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The book is made up of principally of letters and poems he exchanged with Sr Majella McCarron while in his last detention.

Although the gathering was for a Conversation with Ken Saro-Wiwa., he was not physically in the room because he was murdered by the Nigerian State on 10 November 1995. This event confirmed the truth that killing the messenger does not kill the message.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a man of many parts. He was a minority rights and environmental activist. He was an acclaimed writer with works of poetry, prose, drama and other genres. He was an astute businessman and a politician.

Opening comments by yours truly were drawn mostly from Silence Would be Treason and included a reading of three poems from the book. The poems were “Fire”, “Ogoni! Ogoni!” and “Keep Out of Prison” where the title of the collection was taken. That poem reads:

Keep Out of Prison

“Keep out of prison,’ he wrote
‘Don’t get arrested anymore.’
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
Punishable by a term in prison.”

We reminded ourselves that Saro-Wiwa understood his task as taking the Ogoni people on a journey. In a letter written on 1 October 1994 he referred to having escaped an assassination plot:

“Not that death would have mattered to me. It would have carried more harm to those still alive. However, I do want to take the Ogoni people as far on the journey to re-vitalization as is possible—until other leaders are bred.”

His socio-ecological dream was captured under what he termed ERECTISM – an acronym for ethnic autonomy, Resource and environmental control. His vision has nothing to do with partisan politics. He fought for the dignity of his people and for social, economic and environmental justice.

A second introductory presentation by Ken Henshaw of We The People spoke of Saro-Wiwa as a man that utilized his writing as a tool to liberate his people. He stressed that a writer must go beyond being a critic and use his craft as a tool for shaping society. He concluded by saying that Ken Saro-Wiwa lived the principle that a writer must be combative both in theory and in practice.

A punchy presentation by Celestine Akpobari summed that Saro-Wiwa was truthful, courageous and prophetic.

Participants in the conversation agreed that the positions taken by Ken Saro-Wiwa with regard to the devastation of the Ogoni environment have all been validated, especially by the 2011 report of the Assessment of the Ogoni environment by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Conversation With Ken Saro-Wiwa stressed that although he focused primarily on the Ogoni situation the lessons from his life, ideas and actions have broad implications for oppressed peoples across Nigeria and beyond. He was more than just an Ogoni. He showed that we are all Ogoni.

A conversation with Saro-Wiwa would not be complete without reference to his allocutus or concluding speech before the Tribunal that passed a death sentence on him and 8 other Ogoni leaders.  In the allocutus he declared that “We all stand before history.” Our actions and sanctions will invariably be judged at some points in time.

“I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it, for there is no “doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.

“On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian nation has done to the Ogoni loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, academ­ics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine”

Conversations” is an initiative of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) as part of our learning efforts and aims to create space where citizens share ideas from the lives of reputable thinkers and practitioners in the quest for justice and radical Socio-economic transformation. We aim to ensure that young activists learn from history, struggle sacrificially and ground their works on solid thinking and analyses. We emphasize intellectual militancy!

Conversation with Ken Saro-Wiwa will be held in other locations including in Ogoni and in schools. We will also have Conversations with other leaders including Aminu Kano, Thomas Sankara, Amilcar Cabral, Eskor Toyo, Frantz Fanon, Oronto Douglas, Chima Ubani and others.

Rethink Order on Ogoni Oil

HereGovernment Should Withdraw the Order for Resumption of Oil Exploitation in Ogoni Land. The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and We the People notes with alarm and unease the recent memo reportedly originating from the Presidency and addressed to the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation; and signed by Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari. In the said memo dated March 1, 2019 with reference number SH/COS/24/A/8540, the NNPC and NPDC are directed to take over OML 11 (located in Ogoni, River state) from Shell Petroleum Development Company.

The letter states;

 “NNPC/NPDC to take over the operatorship, from Shell Petroleum Development Company, of the entire OML 11 not later than 30 April 2019 and ensure smooth re-entry given the delicate situation in Ogoni Land”.

It goes further to instruct

“NNPC/NPDC to confirm by May 2, 2019 the assumption of the operatorship.”

We consider this instruction by the Presidency insensitive, ill-advised and capable of inflaming suspicions and conflict in an area that is already very fragile and prone to crisis.

Recall that in 1993, Shell was forced to abandon its OML 11 operations located in Ogoni and pull out of the area, following campaigns by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by environmental rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa , for fairer benefits to the Ogoni people from oil wealth, as well as compensation for the damage of their environment. The campaigns by the Ogoni ethnic nationality for a better deal from the Nigerian state also includingrestitution for the dearth of poverty in Ogoniland, as well as recognition and responsibility for the ecological damage of Ogoniland occasioned by the activities of oil companies.

The response of the Nigeria government to these peaceful demands was terrifying. MOSOP was brutally repressed using the Nigerian military. The mass killings and widespread carnage which the military visited on the Ogonis remain largely undocumented. Thousands of Ogonis lost their lives, and many others went into forced exile around the world. In May 1994, capitalizing on the unfortunate killing of 4 prominent Ogoni leaders by a mob of yet to be identified persons in Gokana local government area, Ken Saro Wiwa and other leaders of MOSOP were arrested and detained. After a few months of trial by a special military tribunal, a sentence of death was pronounced on Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 others on October 31, 1995. 10 days after, the nine were immediately executed on November 10, 1995.

It is important to note that the fears of ecological damage which the Ogonis expressed was confirmed in 2011 when the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP released its assessment report of soil and water samples from Ogoniland. The report confirmed massive soil and water contamination which has significantly compromised sources of livelihood and was slowly poisoning the inhabitants of the area.  So alarmed was UNEP about the findings that it recommended that inhabitants of the area immediately stop using water from all their traditional sources, while the government was to immediately commence a clean-up exercise which could take up to thirty years, and amount to the biggest soil and water remediation exercise ever embarked on.  As damning as the Report was, its recommendations remained unattended until 2016 when the government established administrative structures to commence the clean-up.

Given the above, it is worrying why the government will decide to resume oil extraction in Ogoniland when the pollution of the last decades is yet to be cleaned and the recommendations of UNEP have not been fully complied with. The action of the government at this time gives the impression that it only flagged off the Ogoni Clean up through the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in order to purchase the goodwill to resume oil extraction in the area. How else does one explain the fact that a site supposedly being cleaned up will resume full oil extraction activities with all the pollution that comes with it?

HOMEF and We the People also note that the demands of the Ogoni people which led to the abuses they suffered in the hands of the Nigerian Military in the 1990s, and the termination of oil operations in the area, have still not been addressed. It is disappointing and demonstrates a lack of initiative for the government to imagine that those concerns have simply withered away with time. Those of us who have remain connected to the communities know for a fact that the Ogoni people remain resolute in their resistance to any renewed hydrocarbon extraction in their domains.

We fear that the manner the Presidency has approached this subject through an order, without any consultation with stakeholders in Ogoniland or concern for the reservations the people may feel, is capable of threatening the peace in the area and conveying the message that their complaints and demands have been blatantly ignored. It is important to note that since the ugly events of the 1990s, the government has not initiated any peacebuilding processes in Ogoniland, neither has any kind of amelioration for the pains, losses and suffering sustained by the people been provided.

HOMEF and We the People strongly recommend that the government withdraws this order for the resumption of oil activities in Ogoniland, and rather concentrates on redeeming the ecological disaster in the area, and replacing the lost sources of livelihood of the people.

Eco-Instigator #22

Eco-Instigator-22-cover
The year could not slip by without our bringing you the December 2018 edition of your informative Eco-Instigator. The impacts of climate change are many – sea level rise, flooding, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, weather irregularities, increased atmospheric temperature and so on. It is worrisome that at this time nations are still dithering over the causes and how to resolutely face the challenge.

Someone said that you don’t mop the floor with the tap running. We agree. Tackling climate change requires that we stop the very things pumping Green House Gases into the atmosphere and focus on transiting to 100% renewable energy.

In this edition, we serve you articles on climate change, food issues and reports from our projects. We are happy to bring you an article- Sounding the Climate Alarm which clearly advocates for the need to stop digging up more coal, more crude oil and the need to stop fracking. The issue of climate change induced clashes between herders and farmers is also brought to perspective.

Well-meaning individuals and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have continued to advocate for the role of agroecology to ensure food security in Nigeria and Africa at large. We share a declaration by which over 200 Global leaders and organizations reject gene drive, stating that the technology may drive species to extinction and undermine sustainable and equitable food and agriculture. We are also happy to serve you a peep into our farmers’ dia- logue which focused on Food and Farming Systems in Nige-ria and defined the pathway toFood Sovereignty.

There are must-read articles written by Firoze Manji, Femke Wijdekop, Sonali Narang, Bobby Peek and Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje in this edition. They are loaded!

In our poetry section, we give you a poem written by yours truly at a conference of the African Food Sovereignty Alliance which took place at Saly, Senegal in November 2018.

As usual, we suggest a couple of books that you should read to keep you primed for the struggle for ecological justice and the rights of Mother Earth.

Sound the climate alarm! Until Victory!

Download and read Eco-Instigator 22 here

When Dream Die

AvisittoOgale,GoiandBodoRiversstate(129of182)When dreams die, are people left with nothing but fear?  We need to question the inevitability of fear as the outcome of broken or dead dreams.

For this reflection, we will take a ‘dream’ to mean a cherished aspiration or a preferred ideal. It is indeed a strong proposition that when dreams die, they snuff out aspiration and cause ideals to appear unattainable. Dreams are the incubators of vision. They consolidate our hopes, beliefs, convictions and sense of possibility. Dead dreams can kill vision and hope. This applies to individuals as well as nations and even to the entire humanity.

The dream of global peace is being shattered on a daily basis not just by the loss of our sense of community, but also the loss of understanding that ‘community’ goes beyond just the community of people and encompasses the community of all beings. The dream of global peace gets broken by the erection of real and virtual walls between neighbourhoods, communities and nations. Dreams of peace recede with unnecessary sanctions by powerful nations and blatant preparations for war and increased militarism in times of peace. The intensifying arms race sees nations competing over who can build or acquire more state-of-the-art weapons of mass destruction. Dreams can die when creativity gets captured by hate. All these can birth fear and feed despair.

The love of money can trump peace and snuff the life out of dreams. We see humanity shamefully hanging its head in silent acquiescence to the supposition that life can be dispensed with, eliminated without question, provided the murderers stuff our pockets with promises of cash. This can breed fear of a loss of humanity and a descent into barbarism.

Let us consider one particular dream killer – the climate chaos. It is well known that the major source of greenhouse gasses triggering global warming is the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists sent early warnings that the tipping point (the point of no return) could be reached if action was not taken to stop or slow down the stoking of the atmosphere with carbon. National and global agencies warn political leaders that we are running out of time and that real action must be taken urgently. Still we dither.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) starkly states that the world has a mere twelve-year window to act. When some of us became active in the climate justice movement, our struggle was to ensure that nations cut carbon emissions at source in proportion to their levels of responsibility and capabilities. This is a climate debt owed by polluting nations. We insisted that the global temperature must not rise by more than 1 degree Celsius above what it was at the dawn of the Industrial Age. That target has already been reached. Today the official target is 1.5 degrees or well below 2 degrees Celsius. Advised by science, we also campaigned that the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere must not exceed 350 parts per million (ppm). By September 2016, the concentration level had already topped 400 ppm. Dreams die when we are so selfish and so short sighted that we forget that our children have a future ahead of them.

Dreams can die when we know the truth but chose to propagate a lie or vote for the lie. This is what climate deniers do. This is what polluters do. They seem to say that even if the world will burn in the coming decades, they would ensure they scrape the bottom of the barrel of all possible profits. To them, floods, droughts, heatwaves, forest fires, hurricanes, typhoons and the like, mean nothing but opportunities for exploitation, dispossession and accumulation.

Dreams die when trillions of dollars are spent on needless warfare while the climate finance purse literally runs on empty and vulnerable poor nations get battered by climate impacts and Small Island Nations watch their territories go under the sea.

Dreams die when we know that those who cause and benefit from climate harms have disproportionate influence on decisions and climate negotiations. Dreams die when these parties avoid mentioning the known sources and taking a stance on stopping further search for new fossil fuel reserves and deposits. Dreams become nightmares when expensive, ineffective but convenient actions are promoted rather than embarking on real solutions.

Dreams of safety and health die when drainage channels are clogged with plastics and sundry trash — and suddenly it thunders. Dreams die when the trees you lived off are mowed down by illegal loggers or by officials who promise never-to-be-realized infrastructure.

With rising unemployment and underemployment, workers are uncertain of the future of their jobs. Starting wages (or minimum wage) as well as pensions at the end of the job pipe are unpredictable for many, while security votes, possibly used to buy support from military governors during the era of military dictatorship, remain on the budgets.  Corporate dreams die when decisions are forever top down, returns are poor but the wisdom from below is disdained. Same could be the outcome when companies stay stuck in the industrial mode when they should shift into the digital mode.

We can count a thousand ways by which dreams die at individual and corporate levels. The truth is that the death of a dream is not the end of the road. When dreams die, fear does not have to inevitably kick in. When dreams die, we can dream again. We can indeed have better, bigger and higher dreams. It is a choice we can make. Even if you have had the most excellent dream, waking up and taking action is always the best next step. We always have a choice to wake up from a nightmare or to dream again. This is why the end of the year offers individuals and corporations opportunities to review the ebbing year and strategize for the coming ones. This is why nations hold elections at regular cycles and offer citizens the opportunities to see if their governors are leading them on dream paths or into nightmares. This is why we must survey the global terrain and see in which direction the multilateral spaces are tilting and decide if we must stay in those paths, accept palliatives or forge new dreams.

Dreams die when we can identify the dream killers and the purveyors of fear but chose to say nothing and prefer to do nothing.

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First published at https://leadership.ng/2018/11/30/when-dreams-die/